Zaragoza is Not for Tourists

Well, at least that is what I was told. I think somebody has got their information wrong though, because I just spend a nice relaxing weekend in Zaragoza, which is in the providence of Aragon in northern Spain. I took a slow 3 and 1/2 hour train ride to get there (it was the cheapest) and got to see beautiful Spanish countryside right outside the window. It was frustrating because there were a lot of places I wanted to get good pictures of but I wasn’t able to because I was on the train. On Friday when I first arrived around 3pm, I promptly got extremely lost, then found a bus and took it to a stop nearby to the pension where I was staying.

Pension Miramar, however simple it is, was very enjoyable to stay in. I had a room with 2 beds all to myself and my bed was so comfy! Plus, the location of the pension is very residential so it was so quiet and peaceful! My room had a sink and shower, with a toilet down the hall. It cost only 30 Euros for 2 nights – a real steal! The pension was about a 20 minute walk to the main tourist area of Zaragoza. So after I checked in, I headed down to see the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Pilar, which was one of the main reasons I decided to visit Zaragoza. The church was just as beautiful and breathtaking as in photos, with gorgeous tiles covering the domes and a prime location on the River Ebro.

I walked around the interior of the church and admired the ceiling paintings by Spain’s very own Goya, who was actually born in Zaragoza! The best part of visiting the church, though, is taking the elevator to the top of one of the four tall towers. The views over the top of the churche’s domes and tiles, over the city and the river are amazing. It is sooo pretty up there and well worth the 3 Euros you have to pay to go up. After enjoying the view for a bit, I went back down and proceeded to discover the Roman roots of Zaragoza.

The city was originally called Caesar Augustus, after the Emperor himself. It was a major city for trading with Rome located on the banks of the River Ebro. As a result of this history, the city has several old Roman ruins. I first visited the forum museum, which is located directly under one of the main plazas in town. Each museum has educational videos which tell you all about the history of that space, and are very well made and informative. In the forum museum, you get to go into one of the cities old “cloacas” (sewer), as well as see where merchants used to conduct business.

The next stop of the Caesar Augustus route is the Port Museum. After that, the next stops were the thermal baths, then the Roman theatre. The forum and the theatre museums were definitely the best in terms of archaeological remains, educational quality, and overall enjoyment. It was neat to see such quintessentially Roman ruins in northern Spain. I think that the route of Caesar Augustus in Zaragoza is an often overlooked but well worthwhile tourist attraction. Seeing everything on the route took me about 3 hours and only cost me a student price of 5 Euros.

After seeing each place on the route, I went to the main Goya museum. This museum is completely free, and houses several of Goya’s most famous works. The sketch gallery holds more than a hundred of Goya’s early ideas for some of his most famous paintings. My most favorite Goya paintings are definitely the ones which are centered around bullfighting. Goya provides such energy and life to his sketches of bullfights and the surrounding fiestas.

I was worn out after a full 5 to 6 hours of non stop sightseeing so I retreated to my pension for a hot shower, and ate croissants of ham and queso from a nearby store for dinner. On my second day in Zaragoza, I first headed for the freshwater river aquarium, which is supposedly the 3rd largest freshwater aquarium in the world. It is set in the super modern Water Expo complex and was almost completely empty. I am sure this was party to do with the fact that it was cold and rainy outside, but I couldn’t believe there weren’t more people there. The aquarium had an impressive display of fish and marine life, categorized by 5 of the world’s major rivers. My favorite part of the museum was buying a small container of fish food for a Euro and throwing it into a tank full of colorful fish. The fish would swim super fast to fight over the food and some even jumped out of the water. Being easily entertained, I had a great time doing this.

After visiting the Aquarium, I walked along the River Ebro to the Se (Cathedral) of Zaragoza. The other important religious building besides Pilar, the Cathedral is an old church structure full of beauty. My favorite part of this cathedral and what made it so unique was not only that it had about 16 small chapels panning off from the main structure, but that each chapel had its own unique facade along the inside of the church which made it easy to identify the style of the chapel. Also, each chapel was built at a different time and all reflect a different style preference. As you move around the church, you never know what to expect in the next chapel. The Cathedral’s Tapestry Museum was also pretty, but nothing too exquisite.

My next stop for Saturday was the Zaragoza museum, which hosts a great variety of Goya’s art, artifacts from the years of Caesar Augustus, and work by modern Spanish artists. I enjoyed my visit to the museum, but wasn’t happy to see it was pouring rain when I was ready to leave. I had my Nook with me, so I went to this place called the New Orleans coffee and tea shop for some vanilla tea. Next I headed to la Republicana, a restaurant recommended on Trip Advisor, and enjoyed some quail and white bean soup.

On my last day in Zaragoza, my main sight to see was the Aljafeira Palace. The palace has been recognized by UNESCO as being a great example of Moorish architecture. Unfortunately, a lot of the palace has had to be restored and redone, so only small parts of the original remain, but it was still very pretty. After seeing the palace, I headed back downtown and got to see a few minutes of Sunday Mass in the Pilar church. Then, it started raining again so I took cover in shops all along the main road. I bought some delicious home-made caramel and chocolate.

When it stopped raining, I headed down by the river and ate a sandwich and relaxed. After about an hour, I could see the next big storm cloud coming so I decided to trek to the train station. It was a good decision because literally about 5 minutes after I got there, a downpour started. Since I was early, I tried to switch my ticket, but all of the other trains leaving were AVE high-speed, and since I bought a ticket on the cheap, slow, train, I’d have to pay over 40 Euro to switch! So I stayed in the train station until it was time to leave. On the way back, storm clouds hung over the country landscape and it rained off and on. It was really pretty, so I half read and half looked out the window. Even though they say Zaragoza isn’t for tourists, I’d still highly recommend it for a nice escape, and to see the two main churches, the palace, and some great masterpieces by Goya – all for a super great value!

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